Rana Shubair

Clarity in Writing

Being a clean freak has a way of permeating into all aspects of my life, including my writing. In simple terms, I endeavor to make my writing cleaner by making it clearer.

Clarity in writing is about focusing more on conveying the idea than on using superfluous words. Back at university, we liked to show off our vocabulary and expressions so we could impress the teachers, but once we move away from academia and into the real world, we ask ourselves: Would our readers find this amusing? In this fast-paced life where you only have about three seconds to grab the attention of readers, the answer is No.

If your writing is full of fancy or impressive words, this can obfuscate the meaning and readers will get frustrated with having to struggle trying to understand it. Good writing prioritizes ideas over fancy language.

One of the main principles to help writers maintain good writing is eliminating unnecessary words from your writing.  There are two types of words: Working words and glue words. Working words convey meaning and contain the most essential information in a sentence, whereas glue words make the essential pieces of a sentence stick together and they include preposition, conjunctions and interjections.  

If your writing is encumbered with too many glue words, then you have too many sticky sentences which renders your writing clunky. The recommended ratio is around 40% glue words and 60% working words.

In his 1978 article, Plain English for Lawyers, Richard Wydick states:

… “when you find too many glue words, it is a sign that the sentence is badly constructed. A good sentence is like fine cabinetwork: the pieces are cut and shaped to fit together with scarcely any glue. When you find too many glue words in a sentence, take it apart and reshape the pieces to fit tighter.”

Let’s look at one example of a sticky sentence.

Sticky: She walked over to her friend’s house in order to see if she bought a new dress for the party.

We can rewrite this and trim the sticky words:  She went to her friend’s house to see her party dress.

 As writers, when we’re asked to cut down word count, we tremble and lack the heart to do so. We see every word written as our baby.  But once you realize that slashing those unnecessary glue words can make your writing tighter, you’ll be proud of your achievement.

Cutting down the sticky word is like mowing the lawn. After you’re done, you put with arms akimbo and say: That’s much better!

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